The American dream is one of the most important themes in The Great Gatsby. The American success story is that of hard work allowing a man to become incredibly wealthy. After attaining the material wealth, however, there is no clearly outlined steps to take. Fitzgerald shows how the American dream can fail in The Great Gatsby. Gatsby, despite his hard work, makes his money illegally by selling alcohol during an era of prohibition in America. His purpose is in attaining the love of Daisy, a girl he dated before the war, who comes from an old wealthy American family. In a way, Gatsby’s dream is not actually Daisy, but his past memory of her. His dream also mirrors that of all immigrants to America, who saw the luscious verdant green of the new land as a paradise. In a similar manner, Gatsby watches for the green light at the dock in front of Daisy’s dock. The color green symbolizes the American dream, which is corrupted by the failing morality of the roaring 1920s. Gatsby and his dream ultimately die in the pool among the fallen leaves. Wilson, before his wife dies tries as a last resort to go West, and achieve the American dream of success.
Great Gatsby Quotes about the American Dream
“It was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again” (page 6).
Nick says “almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me” (page 13).
“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself” (page 53).
Referring to Gatsby: “He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American – that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games” (page 68).
Daisy is Gatsby’s American Dream: “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (page 83).
“Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry” (page 93).
The green light that Gatsby always looked at in the night: “Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had vanished forever. Compared to the great discovery that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one” (page 98).
“There must be moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” (page 101).
Daisy refers to her daughter as a dream: “You dream, you. You absolute little dream” (page 123).
Wilson says “I’ve been here too long. I want to get away. My wife and I want to go west” (page 130). The want to follow the American dream and move westwards to make a better life for themselves.
“But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room” (page 142).
“But there was Jordan beside me who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age” (page 143).
“He was clutching at some last hope, and I couldn’t bear to shake him free” (page 155).
“He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously – eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand” (page 156).
He had intended, probably to take what he could and go – but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail” (page 156).
“The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption – and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye” (page 162).
“I have an idea Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” (page 169).
“A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about… like that ashen fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees” (page 169).
“It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete” (page 170).
Gatsby’s father tells Nick: “If he’d of lived he’d of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He’d of helped build up the country” (page 176). James J. Hill was an American businessman who rose from nothing in Minnesota and became one of the wealthiest Americans through shipping, and later railroads.
Wolfshiem tells Nick that “I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine appearing gentlemanly young man and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good” (page 179).
“I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see that this has been a story of the West, after all – Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life” (page 184).
“I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams” (page 189).
“He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (page 189).
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther …. And one fine morning ---“ (page 189).